Longwall Library, Magdalen College, Oxford

Wright & Wright, Oxford, 2016


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The courtyard slopes down on a diagonal axis to the library’s main entrance 

Dennis Gilbert     Download Original

  • The courtyard slopes down on a diagonal axis to the library’s main entrance    
  • Magdalen evolved slowly and incrementally around a series of monastic quadrangles    
  • The building is clad in honey-coloured Clipsham stone    
  • Oak joinery is prominent throughout    
  • Previously, there were just 48 study places for Magdalen’s 600 students    
  • There are now 120 study places for students    
  • Magdalen was founded in 1458    
  • Study spaces are embedded in the bookshelves    
  • The new library now contains three new floors of bookcases and study desks    
  • Boundary of land owned by Magdalen College    
  • Lower ground floor plan    
  • Ground floor plan    
  • First floor plan    
  • Second floor plan    
  • Roof plan    
  • Section GG    
  • West elevation    
  • Materials palette    
  • Details – roof, ridge, verge, north eaves    

A new library for one of Oxford's oldest colleges.

Where previously, there were just 48 study places for Magdalen’ Colleges 600 students, now there are 120 in various settings, from an intimate attic floor tucked under the ornate Victorian roof structure to rows of window seats in the new reading room overlooking Longwall Quad.

A key prohibition stipulated that any new building could not exceed the height of the existing boundary wall on the street edge of Longwall Quad. With site parameters dictated by the listed Victorian library and the quad, Wright & Wright’s response was to rethink the way external space was used. Effectively, the quad has been transformed into an outdoor room. The emerald lawn is augmented by a sunken courtyard with planted beds and low stone walls for sitting, studying and socialising.

Clad in honey-coloured Clipsham stone, the low-slung form of the new wing wraps around the base of the Buckler Building, forming a plinth-like structure. The new reading room runs parallel with the street boundary wall to delineate the fourth side of the quad.

The entrance hall acts as a pivot uniting new and existing elements. On one side the luminous, top-lit volume of the new reading room with its views over the quad; on the other, a staircase leading up to the remodelled Buckler Building. Stripped back to its shell, the Victorian stone box now contains three new floors of bookcases and study desks. This tactic maximises the available volume and creates an atmospheric warren of nooks and crannies in which scholars can secret themselves.


  • Begun: Jun 2014
  • Completed: Jul 2016
  • Sector: Education
  • Total cost: £5.4M
  • Procurement: JCT Traditional Contract with Contractor’s Designed Portion
  • CO2 Emissions: 18.8kg/m2/year
  • Address: Oxford, OX1 4AU, United Kingdom

Professional Team